Did Elon Musk Go to College?

The second richest man in the world runs SpaceX, Tesla, and Twitter … and he's trying to get back into AI. Musk dropped out of a Ph.D. program but points to his college years as the time when his passions took off.
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  • Elon Musk earned two bachelor's degrees from the University of Pennsylvania but dropped out of a Stanford University Ph.D. program.
  • Today Musk's estimated net worth is $173.4 billion, making him the world's second richest.
  • Musk recruits students from competitive universities for Tesla, SpaceX, and other ventures.

Elon Musk lost the top spot for the richest person in the world.

As of May 3, the SpaceX founder, Tesla, and Twitter CEO's net worth totals $173.4 billion, according to the Forbes Real-Time Billionaires List. Both Forbes and Bloomberg Billionaires Index put Musk behind Louis Vuitton magnate Bernard Arnault ($237.3 billion) and in front of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos ($128.3 billion).

He enters the month having shed some $48 billion, give or take, since his net worth peaked in 2022. Under his leadership, Twitter has seen a massive decline in advertising, Reuters reported, while SpaceX is under fire after its Starship rocket on April 20 exploded over south Texas. None of that is stopping the billionaire from diving back into artificial intelligence (AI).

Musk helped found OpenAI in 2015 and recently signed an open letter asking for a safety pause on the technology, The New York Times reported. Now, though, he wants to start his own AI project.

How did Musk acquire so much wealth and power? His journey starts in academia where he earned two bachelor's degrees before dropping out of a Ph.D. program.

The controversial billionaire traces his passion for technology to his undergrad years spent obsessing over the internet, renewable energy, and space, according to Ashlee Vance’s biography of the billionaire.

Elon Musk Came to the U.S. as a College Student

While Musk didn't fit in well at school as a kid, Vance reported, he thrived at college. He started at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school, on a scholarship. Musk paid his own way through college, making rent money by hosting parties with friends, he said in a December 2019 Tweet.

At Penn, Musk pursued a double major in physics and in economics. While he appreciated his business education, Musk says he preferred physics, and he opted to intern in Silicon Valley over his two summers at Penn.

Musk embarked on a Ph.D. program in physics at Stanford University, but left after two days. The entrepreneur "couldn't stand to just watch the internet go by," he said in a 2013 interview with Khan Academy.

With his brother Kimbal, Musk founded Zip2, an online maps and business directory, in 1995. They sold the company four years later, for over $300 million. Musk, 27 at the time, made $22 million. Next, Musk founded an online financial services company, X.com, the future PayPal. In 2002, eBay bought PayPal for $1.5 billion, according to Vance’s biography.

That same year, Musk turned his attention to rocket technology, putting $100 million down to form Space Exploration Technologies — SpaceX. In 2004, Musk was one of the first major investors in Tesla.

While CEO of Tesla, Musk continued to extend his influence, helping to start SolarCity (solar panels), The Boring Company (tunneling), and Neuralink (implantable brain–machine interfaces). And when he co-founded OpenAI in 2015, it was a nonprofit research laboratory focused on safer artificial intelligence.

Since buying Twitter in October 2022, Musk has implemented massive changes. He laid off 80% of its workforce and tweeted memes that have cumulatively catapulted the social media site into chaos.

As CEO of Twitter, Musk has repeatedly taken on journalism, irking some of the largest media outlets in the world. In April 2023, NPR announced it would no longer tweet from its 52 official accounts after Twitter labeled it "state-affiliated media," a label previously used for propaganda outlets in autocratic countries. That same month, Musk told the BBC that he didn't think journalists were fair arbiters of truth and that he had more trust in "ordinary people."

Tesla has also experienced recent turmoil under Musk's leadership. In February 2023, Musk announced Tesla was moving its engineering headquarters back to California, less than three years after it decamped for Austin, Texas.

SpaceX, meanwhile, on April 20 saw its test launch of its SpaceX Starship rocket end in an explosion over south Texas. The company called the test a success, but the optics were horrible, experts told CNN. Environmental groups are now suing the Federal Aviation Administration alleging the agency failed to adequately investigate the potential harm the launch could do to the surrounding environment.

The whirlwind of controversies hasn't stopped Musk from re-entering the AI race this spring.

"He believes that A.I. is going to be a major turning point and that if it is poorly managed, it is going to be disastrous," a theoretical cosmologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a founder of the Future of Life Institute, told The New York Times. "Like many others, he wonders: What are we going to do about that?"

Does Musk Still Cold-Call College Student Recruits?

In college, Musk focused on areas that would impact the future of humanity. These included "the internet; sustainable energy; space exploration, in particular the permanent extension of life beyond Earth; artificial intelligence; and reprogramming the human genetic code."

Musk told podcaster Joe Rogan in May 2020 that, "Too many smart people go into finance and law," and he tends to recruit people like him — many SpaceX engineers, who are overwhelmingly young and male, have been poached from colleges' aerospace departments. He’s even known to reach out to professors to find the top scorers, then call up the best students.

Does he still call students? Musk hasn't recently commented on hiring, as he's been questioned repeatedly on his reasons for slashing headcount at Twitter.

Musk told the BBC in April 2023 that cutting Twitter's workforce from just under 8,000 when he bought the firm to about 1,500 had not been easy. He admitted he did not fire everybody in person, saying: "It's not possible to talk with that many people face to face."